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PhD is a globally recognized postgraduate academic degree awarded by universities and higher education institutions to a candidate who has submitted a thesis or dissertation, based on extensive and original research in their chosen field. The specificities of PhD degrees vary depending on where you are and what subject you’re studying.

In general, however, the PhD is the highest level of degree a student can achieve (with some exceptions). It usually follows a master’s degree, although some institutions also allow students to progress straight to a PhD from their bachelor’s degree. Some institutions also offer the opportunity to ‘upgrade’ or ‘fast-track’ your master’s degree to a PhD, provided you are deemed to possess the necessary grades, knowledge, skills and research abilities.

Traditionally, a PhD involves three to four years of full-time study in which the student completes a substantial piece of original research presented as a thesis or dissertation. Some PhD programs accept a portfolio of published papers, while some countries require coursework to be submitted as well.

Students must also complete a ‘viva voice’ or oral defense of their PhD. This can be with just a small number of examiners, or in front of a large examination panel (both usually last between one to three hours). While PhD students are traditionally expected to study on campus under close supervision, distance education and e-learning schemes have meant a growing number of universities are now accepting part-time and distance-learning PhD students.